Feb
14
2019
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Zoho’s office suite gets smarter

As far as big tech companies go, Zoho is a bit different. Not only has it never taken any venture funding, it also offers more than 40 products that range from its online office suite to CRM and HR tools, email, workflow automation services, video conferencing, a bug tracker and everything in-between. You don’t often hear about it, but the company has more than 45 million users worldwide and offices in the U.S., Netherlands, Singapore, Dubai, Yokohama and Beijing — and it owns its data centers, too.

Today, Zoho is launching a major update to its core office suite products: Zoho Writer, Sheet, Show and Notebooks. These tools are getting an infusion of AI — under Zoho’s “Zia” brand — as well as new AppleTV and Android integrations and more. All of the tools are getting some kind of AI-based feature or another, but they are also getting support for Zia Voice, Zoho’s conversational AI assistant.

With this, you can now ask questions about data in your spreadsheets, for example, and Zia will create charts and even pivot tables for you. Similarly, Zoho is using Zia in its document editor and presentation tools to provide better grammar and spellchecking tools (and it’ll now offer a readability score and tips for improving your text). In Zoho Notebook, the note-taking application that is also the company’s newest app, Zia can help users create different formats for their note cards based on the content (text, photo, audio, checklist, sketch, etc.).

“We want to make AI helpful in a very contextual manner for a specific application,” Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s chief evangelist, told me. “Because we do AI across the board, we learned a lot and were are able to apply learnings on one technology and one piece of context and apply that to another.” Zoho first brought Zia to its business intelligence app, for example, and now it’s essentially bringing the same capabilities to its spreadsheet app, too.

It’s worth noting that Google and Microsoft are doing similar things with their productivity apps, too, of course. Zoho, however, argues that it offers a far wider range of applications — and its stated mission is that you should be able to run your entire business on its platform. And the plan is to bring some form of AI to all of them. “Fast-forward a few months and [our AI grammar and spellchecker] is applied to the business application context — maybe a support agent responding to a customer ticket can use this technology to make sure there are no typos in those responses,” Vegesna said.

There are plenty of other updates in this release, too. Zoho Show now works with AppleTV-enabled devices for example, and Android users can now use their phones as a smart remote for Show. Zoho Sheet now lets you build custom functions and scripts and Zoho Writer’s web, mobile and iPad versions can now work completely offline.

The broader context here, though, is that Zoho, with its ridiculously broad product portfolio, is playing a long game. The company has no interest in going public. But it also knows that it’s going up against companies like Google and Microsoft. “Vertical integration is not something that you see in our industry,” said Vegesna. “Companies are in that quick mode of getting traction, sell or go public. We are looking at it in the 10 to 20-year time frame. To really win that game, you need to make these serious investments in the market. The improvements you are seeing here are at the surface level. But we don’t see ourselves as a software company. We see ourselves as a technology company.” And to build up these capabilities, Vegesna said, Zoho has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into its own data centers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, for example.

Dec
17
2018
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Google will make it easier for people without accounts to collaborate on G Suite documents

Soon it will be easier for people without Google accounts to collaborate on G Suite documents. Currently in beta, a new feature will enable G Suite users to invite people without G Suite subscriptions or Google accounts to work on files by sending them a pin code.

Using the pin code to gain access allows invitees to view, comment on, suggest edits to or directly edit Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. The owners and admins of the G Suite files monitor usage through activity logs and can revoke access at any time. According to the feature’s support article, admins are able to set permissions by department or domain. They also can restrict sharing outside of white-listed G Suite domains or their own organization.

In order to sign up for the beta program, companies need to fill in this form and select a non-G Suite domain they plan to collaborate with frequently.

According to a Reuters article published in February, since intensifying their focus on enterprise customers, Google has doubled the number of organizations with a G Suite subscription to more than 4 million. But despite Google’s efforts to build its enterprise user base, G Suite hasn’t come close to supplanting Office 365 as the cloud-based productivity software of choice for companies.

Office 365 made $13.8 billion in sales in 2016, versus just $1.3 billion for G Suite, according to Gartner. Google has added features to G Suite, however, to make the two competing software suites more interoperable, including an update that enables Google Drive users to comment on Office files, PDFs and images in the Drive preview panel without needing to convert them to Google Docs, Sheets or Slide files first, even if they don’t have Microsoft Office or Acrobat Reader. Before that, Google also released a Drive plugin for Outlook.

This may not convince Microsoft customers to switch, especially if they have been using its software for decades, but at least it will get more workers comfortable with Google’s alternatives, and may convince some companies to subscribe to G Suite for at least some employees or departments.

Nov
01
2018
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Asana launches $19.99 Business tier to help managers handle multiple projects

Asana, the platform where people can create and track the progress of work projects, made its name originally as a place where individuals and smaller teams can create and track the progress of a specific project. Now, as the startup courts bigger organizations among its 50,000 paying organizations and millions of (paying and free) users globally, it is adding another tier for enterprises that are using Asana for multiple projects: Asana Business, priced at $19.95 per user, per month.

Aimed primarily at teams that have managers or executives overseeing multiple projects simultaneously — sometimes in the thousands for a single organization — the idea is that Business will have extra features to help designated people handle and triage that workload more effectively.

Asana co-founder and CEO Dustin Moskovitz

“Our role is to help leaders understand where their attention can be most useful and what to be focused on,” Dustin Moskovitz, pictured, the co-founder and CEO of Asana, said to me in an interview recently.

That focus on executives and managers is one part of the company’s bigger vision of where it sees its own place in the range of productivity tools that a business might use, alongside other areas like efficient storage (à la Dropbox, Box or another cloud-based service) or communication (e.g. Slack, Workplace, Teams, etc.).

Asana is also not alone in its category; other alternatives include Airtable, Write, Trello and Basecamp, another reason the company is on the path to continue innovating and finding ways to make its service more sticky.

The new Asana Business tier includes a couple of specific new tools that will differentiate it from Teams (Asana’s $9.99/user/month tier for groups of more than five) and Enterprise (the tier that you need to speak to an account manager to determine pricing). In all cases, the pricing is based on buying an annual subscription: prices are higher if you pay by the month.

The first, Portfolio, will give a manager a way of viewing what everyone in an organization is working on in Asana — a “mission control” that provides a single view of what is going on, which can be useful for figuring out more big-picture progress or to oversee a larger project that has multiple streams of work within it.

Alongside that, it’s also soon going to launch another feature in Business called Workloads, which will let managers then assign people to projects or redeploy them, based on what they are seeing progress through the Portfolios tool.

The two features, Asana hopes, will mean that organizations will not only get better insights into their current projects on the platform, but might be enticed to buy into using it for more of them. Alex Hood, the company’s head of product (who joined a year ago after many years at Intuit), noted that it’s something that companies had already been trying to address themselves to some degree. “We’ve seen customers hack solutions together,” he said. So, it seemed like time to make it into a more formal tool, Hood said.

The company’s move to add another tier to generate more revenue comes on the heels of Asana raising $75 million on a $900 million valuation earlier this year — money that Moskovitz told TechCrunch is still largely in the bank.

“We’re not yet profitable, but we’re rapidly approaching it,” he said, describing Asana to me as a “high-volume SaaS business, very efficient and very successful.” The company is not in sight of an IPO, he added, but it seems that it is just getting started on what more it might add to the platform to make it more sticky and useful to the average business user. 

Key on that roadmap, Hood said, is the use of more machine learning and other artificial intelligence tools in the creation of new features — something that the company first introduced through Timeline, introduced in March, which knits together different project threads to start creating a bigger overview of what is going on.

One new feature that Asana is working on is a way to highlight when projects might not be going to plan, or that there are areas that have yet to be addressed — and then suggest ways of helping to fix things through the redeployment of people.

Another area that Asana is exploring is how to use AI to match people better to projects. Hood said that it’s now working on a system that might be able to suggest where an employee or team member might get assigned — for example, using the profile of a person that invited you into a team as an indicator of where you might be working.

Mar
06
2018
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Worklytics wants to cut down on lame meetings and help make teams more efficient

 If you’ve ever been stuck in a boring meeting, chances are you might spend the time busy answering messages from email or Slack — or even just browsing around the Internet while you wait for it to finally end. And there are a lot of factors that go into making that meeting boring, from the content to the person actually delivering it. Phillip Arkcoll knows that problem quite well,… Read More

May
11
2017
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Salesforce aims to save you time by summarizing emails and docs with machine intelligence

 We have all seen the studies — some American workers spend upwards of six hours a day handling email. It’s not a great use of time, it destroys productivity and it ultimately costs businesses money. A new paper written by a team Salesforce MetaMind researchers could eventually provide summaries of professional communication. More effective text summarization tools would… Read More

Apr
19
2017
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Sapho gets $14M more to make legacy software more useful with ‘micro apps’

 In recent years, Microsoft, Facebook and Slack (and many more) have all built new productivity platforms for workers to integrate and communicate about dozens of other API-enabled enterprise apps, but what about productivity tools for those enterprises that have no appetite or budget to rip out and replace software that they’ve been using for years? Well, there’s an app for… Read More

Mar
08
2017
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Amazon’s AWS acquired meeting productivity startup Do to expand Chime

A business meeting in a conference room. Amazon has quietly made one more acquisition to build out the productivity services on its cloud platform AWS. The company has acquired Do.com, a startup that had built a platform to make meetings more productive by doing things like managing notes in preparation for them, and creating reports for those who were not there, as well as organising the meetings themselves. Amazon is… Read More

Jan
12
2017
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Microsoft launches StaffHub, a new Office 365 app aimed at shift workers

staffhub Microsoft today unveiled the newest addition to its Office 365 suite with the debut of an application for shift workers and management, called StaffHub. The program is aimed at those who don’t tend to work from desktop computers and have different schedules from week to week, such as in retail, hospitality, restaurants and other industries.
The program was originally introduced in… Read More

Sep
15
2016
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Task management app Asana takes on the spreadsheet with ‘custom fields’

asana Asana — the enterprise SaaS business started by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and early Facebook employee Justin Rosenstein — has made a name for itself as a workflow and task management app that aims to help teams be more productive by making it much easier to figure out what needs to get done. But today, the company is taking the wraps off a new service that will… Read More

Sep
13
2016
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Evernote is moving all its data, machine learning tech to Google Cloud Platform

evernote Evernote — the popular note taking and productivity startup with 200 million users — has built its reputation around an app that lets you record and track all your life’s details hold them there, for life. Today, the company is shifting gears on the question of how it will keep hold of and track that information: Evernote has announced that it is migrating all of its… Read More

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